SOURCES AND BORDERS
OF THE HUMANITIES DISCOURSE
Konstantin A. Bogdanov (University of Konstanz, Germany; Institute of Russian Literature, St. Petersburg) in his article «Context anthropology: to the history of “commonly understood concepts” in philology» demonstrates how the concept of hermeneutics was born from the perspective of philology as a discipline dealing with ancient texts. At the foundation of that concept lay not only the works of Alexandrian and Roman commentators of ancient authors but also the influence of Classical rhetoric. The development of philology proper was stimulated not as much by canonisation priorities (as it happened in Eastern cultures) but rather by such values as rivalry, argument and discussion. Jan Assmann called this tradition «hypolepsis» (literally «grasp», a speech act relating to that which the previous speaker has said). The author considers the development of the very notion of context in various frameworks — from comprehension and rhetorical usage of Biblical texts in the Middle Ages to stylistical analysis, cutting age virtual reality and electronic media research to sociological and aesthetical concepts.
A.B. Kovelman (Moscow State University) and Yu. Gershovich (Jerusalem) in their article «Running away from Logos: towards understanding of Rabbinic hermeneutics» look into the special «intermediary» genre and intellectual nature of commenting on sacred texts in Jewish tradition. The authors place in the center of their attention a juxtaposition of the «nondiscursive» nature of Talmudic literature created in the 2nd — 7th centuries AD in the Roman-held Palestine and Sasanian Iraq with the rationalism of Classical works and its basic prerequisites («arm’s length principle», descriptiveness, avoidance of paradoxes, etc.). The authors discuss the habitual comparison of a Jewish midrash with postmodern writing and point out the importance of Ernst Cassirer’s legacy for understanding the specifics of mythological thinking as applied to midrashim (I. Heinemann); whereas the ideas of Martin Heidegger who argued against Cassirer’s universalism during their famous dispute in Davos in 1929 seem to be more important for the postmodernist discourse (D. Boyarin).
Holger Dainat (Bielefeld University) in his article «Where does the discipline end? The way German literary theory treats its borders» explores the making and historical specifics of German Studies-related literary theory. The author considers special practices and mechanisms of constructing a discipline in that field starting from the 18th century: opting out the general public, exclusion of the new literature (handled by philosophy), neutralisation of arguments and depersonalisation of analysis. The author pays particular attention to the concept of «Das sprachliche Kunstwerk» by Wolfgang Kayser that concentrates on an in-depth interpretation of a single work (and whose periphery includes research performed on its author, the nature of its reception, intellectual context, etc.). The article closes with considerations upon the problematic status of the original literary theory in the modern university milieu.
RHETORICS OF DISTINCTIVENESS
This section opens up with an article by Nikolay Plotnikov (Bochum University, Germany) «The language of Russian philosophical tradition: “History of concepts” as a form of historical and philosophical reflection». The paper presents the history of concepts as a form of reflection of philosophical language. It considers global ideological and worldview confrontations by defining the concepts used in those confrontations. The analysis of history of philosophical concepts could perform an important critical and hermeneutical work on clarifying the content, evolution and cognitive functions of Russian philosophical language both in the filed of history of Russian thought and in modern attempts to reclaim that history. The research focuses on the transformations of the vocabulary used in Russian intellectual history to articulate philosophical problems forming a conceptual horizon of its own.
In her article «Thought as a transition point: Heidegger in the philosophers’ world» Oxana Timofeeva (The New Literary Observer magazine, Moscow) turns to Heidegger’s case, to use it as a research specimen for studying some universal topological features of philosophical discourse. The author juxtaposes two «classical» stances that argue with each other yet complement each other — the «objectivising» sociological criticism, that first an foremost takes into consideration various institutional structures and social functions of professional fields (Pierre Bourdieu), and the criticism that is undertaken from «within» philosophy using its characteristic Utopian perspective (Deleuze/Guattari). O. Timofeeva focuses her research on the «closed society» of philosophers treating it as a unique anthropological phenomenon whose very existence is linked to the concept of thinking as a borderline experience that Heidegger describes using the concept of «openness». This article maintains the logic according to which in some extreme point where politics meets philosophy, openness might turn into its opposite.
IN THE SEARCH OF A “GENUINE JEWISH SHTETL”
The block opens with a survey «The Shtetl between Fantasy and Reality» by Mikhail Krutikov (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor), which traces the evolution of the shtetl topos in fiction, literary criticism and anthropology.
It identifies two trends in the rich and diverse tradition of the representation of the shtetl as a symbolic Eastern European Jewish space. Depending on the ideological and aesthetic orientation of the author, the shtetl could be portrayed either as an idyllic Jewish island in the hostile Gentile sea, or as a community that is falling apart under the pressure of internal and external conflicts.
This introduction sets up the stage for the publication of «Literary Image of the Shtetl» by Dan Miron (Columbia University, New York), the leading contemporary authority on Yiddish and Hebrew Literature. First published in Yiddish in 1978, this essay appeared in a revised form in English in 1996 and has remained one of the most frequently quoted pieces of literary criticism in Jewish studies until today. Breaking with the socio-historical approach that dominated Jewish literary criticism until the 1970s, Miron has suggested that each shtetl story be read as based on a single extended metaphor that consists of many partial metaphors and controls the story as a whole. Elaborating on Roman Jakobson’s distinction between metaphor and metonymy, Miron has also proposed a new classification of shtetl fiction based on the internal literary criteria.
«The “So-Called ▒Jewish’ Mestechko”: Bolshevik Ideology, Scholarship, and the Shtetl Between the World Wars» by Deborah Yalen (Colorado State University, Fort Collins) examines the former Jewish market town from the perspective of official Bolshevik discourse, focusing in particular on the contradictions between official policy and language during the interwar period. As part of a broader project of redistricting in the early 1920s, the category «mestechko» was eliminated altogether as an administrative-territorial unit from the Soviet map. The politically obsolete term «evreiskoe mestechko» nonetheless continued to be used widely by scholars and political activists dealing with the socioeconomic reconstruction of Jewish communities Soviet Ukraine and Belorussia. Drawing on the work of Dan Miron, Yalen explores how the Yiddish literary tradition subtly influenced the political stakes of the Soviet shtetl discourse in both Yiddish and Slavic terminology, and assesses the Marxist-Leninist stance towards the former Jewish market town in light of post-Holocaust scholarship on the «image» vs. the «reality» of the shtetl.
Alexander Ivanov (European University, St. Petersburg) in his article «“Jews in Tsarist Russia and in the Soviet Union” — An Exhibition of the Achievements of Jewish Economic and Cultural Construction in the Land of the Soviets» analyses the political and ideological aspects of the representation of Jewish life in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union at a grand exhibition that was held at the State Ethnographic Museum in Leningrad in 1939—1941. The exhibition celebrated the completion of the project of Sovietisation of Jewish life which culminated in the creation of the Jewish Autonomous Region Birobidzhan, but was opened at the moment when the Soviet authorities lost interest in the project. Of particular interest is the dissonance between the official ideological message and its perception by some of the critically minded visitors of the exhibition, whose notes have been preserved in the Museum’s archives.
Valery Dymshits (European University, St. Petersburg) provides in his article «Mani Leyb. Nezhin» an original poetic translation of and a detailed and expanded commentary to one of the most important poetic texts of Yiddish literature, the poem «Nezhin» by the American modernist poet Mani-Leib (Brahinsky, 1883—1953). The author reveals the inner mechanics of the construction of the shtetl image in the twentieth-century Yiddish literature, focusing on the distinction between poetry and realist prose.
IMAGE OF THE «ENEMY» — THE WAR — THE SIEGE
The block opens with an article by Isolde Baumga¨rtner (Cologne) «The “mask of the national” in Joseph Brodsky». The author analyses the image of the «German» (precisely, of the «ugly German») in Brodsky’s poetry and autobiographical prose. What is the role of the negative, demonising representation of the German and how does it operate in the poet’s work as a whole? To answer this question, Baumga¨rtner starts with the early Brodsky’s poem «Two hours in reservoir» (1965), the mocking adaptation of the Faustian tradition, and then moves on to his essay «Watermark» (1992). In both works she discovers a structure based on the presence of an ambivalent «mask» which plays with various national stereotypes in order to articulate the painful and paradoxical truth of the complexity of human existence which goes beyond the framework of national identity.
Elena Stepanova (Berlin) in her article «“The gain for my MG”: contemporary German literature on the war against the Soviet Union» describes the dynamics of the post-war German fiction in regards to the memory politics and especially to the recognition of the war crimes committed by Wehrmacht on the territory of the USSR. As her study shows, despite some powerful exceptions (such as novels by Heinrich Bo¨ll, Erich Maria Remarque and Uwe Timm) and profound political changes that occurred after 1989, German war prose generally is still preoccupied with the suffering of the German solders and their relatives during the World War II, while being reluctant to speak about the suffering brought by Wehrmacht itself to the occupied Eastern European countries (including extermination of the civilian population).
The block ends with the prose poem by Sergey Zavjalov (Helsinki— Saint-Petersburg) «The Advent» dedicated to the Siege of Leningrad (1941—1944).
LETTERS NOT ABOUT RUSSIAN POETRY
In her survey article «From White Page to Natural Gaits: Notes on Recent French Poetry» Rosmarie Waldrop (Providence) depicts current trends in contemporary French poetry, particularly stressing the importance of the white (blanc) space of the page in constructing of the new syntax.